Your Belief in Magic Is a Branding Exercise


It isn’t merely that you believe in astrology or witchcraft or crystals or bibliomancy or the tarot. It’s more that you choose to believe. Even if a moment of ineffable wonder opened you up to your supernatural or metaphysical belief, you’re still aware that it’s a belief, a contingent practice. Maybe your friends don’t join in, maybe they do sometimes. Either way, the power of the practice still exists — you can still change a little bit of the world for yourself.

This, according to trend forecaster-art collective K-HOLE, is called Chaos Magic. “On a bargain basement level,” K-HOLE writes in a new report,

Chaos Magic lives in the same realm as the cult of positive thinking. But it goes beyond making mood boards of high-end apartments you’d like to will into your possession. Belief becomes a technology that creates change.

Now, if you’re not familiar with K-HOLE, you’re free to read any number of pieces about its origin. In short order, though: it’s a group of artists and friends who do art projects and (more popularly) release trend forecasting reports. These forecasts just happen to look like zines put together by a team of ex-boarding school kids, and they read like a mix of your basic Gibsonian pattern recognition and those expensive reports put together by the futurist gurus of the post-crash business world.

To put this in another way, K-HOLE is almost (but not exactly) a fan-fiction version of a trend forecasting report. Increasingly, though, the collective sees what it does as a “practice” — like the tarot — that is describable in terms of Chaos Magic. And Chaos Magic, like branding, is ultimately commercial.

“Fuck someone wearing Chanel, stare at the label while you’re cumming, and you’ll become Karl Lagerfeld,” K-HOLE writes. “Chaos Magic, like branding, is desire doomed to be commercial.”

K-HOLE’s example of this confluence of magic and branding is Pottermore, the branded “world” that apparently relies on the “Sorting Hat” logic of Harry Potter. The idea is that Harry Potter’s magical Sorting Hat disposed a generation to believe there is an answer to the question, “Who am I?” The answer being that you’re a Slytherin. As K-HOLE explains:

The Sorting Hat helps us see how magic is already an organizing principle in the world around us. We’re talking about magic, not wizardry. People believe they are Slytherin; they don’t believe they can fly on brooms.

Whether this assessment of Harry Potter impresses you — I’m fine with it — it’s fair to point out that this issue of K-HOLE is melancholic as hell about the prospect of magic. The report is called “a report on doubt,” and its tagline is, “Seeing the Future ≠ Changing the Future.”

But maybe this is because the K-HOLE project has become an emblem for a broader practice, a semiotics-damaged cultural anthropology that is now a mainstay of the corporate world. (There are more cultural anthropologists working for corporations than anywhere else.) This year, too, Tom McCarthy’s novel Satin Island (sort of) satirized this development. It features a cultural anthropologist named “U.” who is asked to interpret “everything” — in a K-HOLE way — for a large corporation.

You might remember K-HOLE as the project that first contextualized “normcore,” a concept that was later misinterpreted to death by the broader media. It’s no surprise that K-HOLE has re-interpreted the assimilation and death of “normcore” by calling it “genericide”:

[Genericide is] what befalls a product when its brand name migrates into language in general — think kleenex, heroin, cellophane, aspirin, thermos, all of them once protected trademarks, all of them now generic terms unassociated with their original sources.

“Post-#normcore,” they write, “K-HOLE is interested in dynamics of self-destruction-via-success.”

Still, we might begin to ask whether the “magic” of K-HOLE — embodied in concepts like “normcore” — is doomed to end up on the “chalkboard” of corporate culture. Sooner or later, the most beloved fan fiction becomes Fifty Shades of Grey.

“Magic postulates a complete and all-embracing determinism,” wrote the cultural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. Maybe instead of “determinism,” he meant “fatalism.”